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Swinging the Bat (a guest post by my brother)

Marty and me in 2011

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since my brother, Marty, suffered a 12-hour seizure that left him with permanent brain damage and short-term memory loss. He’s endured frustration and great sadness, but what’s gotten him through it all and helps him continue to accept and adjust to his new reality is his optimism and glass-half-full spirit, an unwaivering commitment to helping others, and his unyielding faith in the god he’s trusted all his life.

Marty began writing essays years ago and self-published a collection of 100 of them prior to his seizure. It took him awhile to “pick up his pen” again after that fateful day in June 2011, but he’s been honing his skills, and I felt the one I’m posting below is his most thoughtful to-date. His words really kicked me in the pants since I feel lately some of my “at-bats” have been wasted. Read on and see if anything he says resonates with you, too.
Swinging The Bat
Like many fans of professional baseball, I enjoy sitting on my patio on a nice summer evening listening to my favorite team on the radio. I also enjoy watching my favorite team on television, too. Whether my team wins or loses really doesn’t matter. Where they are in the standings doesn’t matter either. I still turn on the radio or the TV to catch the game when it is on. I guess you can say, “Hope springs eternal” among true baseball fans.
There is one thing I cannot tolerate in baseball. That one thing is lackluster effort. It annoys me to no end when a player goes up to bat and then strikes out without even swinging the bat. They simply stand there with a zombie…like stare and watch the pitches go by until the umpire calls them out. These are not wildly thrown pitches out of the strike zone, but perfectly hittable balls. Then they simply turn and head back to the dugout. What a wasted at-bat.
I’ve always felt that you go to the plate with a bat in your hands to swing at pitches to try to get a hit. Standing there and watching as the ball goes by is unacceptable. You only get three or four chances to hit during a ball game. Why waste those opportunities with the bat resting on your shoulder without at least giving it a go? You can’t get a hit or a home run without swinging the bat. I have no time for people who do not try.
Now, I don’t mind it when a hitter goes down swinging at the plate. There are times when a particular pitcher is good and he is “on his game,” so to speak. That pitcher is throwing good stuff that is tough to hit. It happens. He may be throwing some nasty curveballs or sinkerballs that would test even the best of hitters. But as long as you are trying your best to hit his best pitches and you still strike out, there is nothing to be ashamed of. You gave it your best. Who knows? You may get the best of the situation next time you meet him again. The point is you tried.
I find this to be like life. We are faced with challenges all the time. Life has a way of throwing fastballs, curveballs, and screwballs at us. What we do about these pitches determines what kind of people we are or will be. Do we just give up as we approach the batter’s box and determine beforehand to not even swing our bats, to not even try our best, as we watch those pitches go by? Or, do we resolve to try our best to grip the bat a bit differently or stand in the box a bit differently and take a hack at the tough pitches?   
Ever since going on disability two years ago after losing much of my memory capabilities, I found it easy to get discouraged and even angry because of what I lost. It was also easy to just stand there at the plate and watch as those pitches went by. But, there are people and organizations that will not allow me to fall into that trap. They know that people like myself still have much to contribute and they are very good at helping people like myself to realize that and to…well…contribute.
Thanks to these people, I am swinging the bat. I volunteer twice a week at a local food shelf warehouse where I am very much needed and very much appreciated. I participate in a golf league and a bowling league for disabled people. I am not languishing around thinking about what I cannot do. I may strike out occasionally, but that’s OK. I may not be quite the person I once was, but that, too, is okay. As long as I am swinging the bat, my chances are much better that I’ll hit a double or a single.
What kind of person are you? Are you content to watch pitches go by as the umpire calls you out? Are you satisfied with lackluster and mediocre effort? Do you want to swing the bat and give it your best shot? We don’t have many opportunities or much time in life to turn things around. We need to start swinging our bats now! We need to give our best to life now! Tomorrow may be too late. We never know what might happen tomorrow. Ask me. I know about that. 

A 5-Year-Old’s Marathon…In Pictures

I was one proud Grammy this morning as I watched my granddaughter, Claire, complete the Pittsburgh Marathon’s Kids Of Steel program, in which she not only ran 26.2 miles over the course of the last two months, but she raised $2,505 for the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh.

Claire ran 1 mile on 25 days and ran the final 1.2 miles with her dad, the day before the Pittsburgh Marathon, in which he and my daughter are going to run the half. (Daughter as in the one who had her fourth baby just two months ago. She rocks really hard!)
Here’s what the morning looked like:
We arrived downtown and put Luca and Mae in one stroller, while baby Audrey slept in another stroller (they’re saying, “Cheese!”):
The finish line:
The medals:
The bananas:
Auntie Carly and Papa Larry making signs:
Audrey with her sign:
Luca on Uncle Ben’s shoulders with his sign:
Mae on my shoulders with her sign:
Claire running for the finish line. She ran in the tutu my awesome running Diva friend, Sondra, made for her. Claire’s all about the high fives:
Claire with her medal:

More of the tutu:

Claire with her mom:
Claire with her certificate and her dad:
It was so encouraging to see so many kids and their parents participating in the Kids of Steel program. Kids of all sizes and economic backgrounds ran their hearts out today, and the crowd didn’t let them down. They were cheered on by thousands of people, and the looks on the kids’ faces as they crossed the finish line was of pure joy. I have no doubt this experience will encourage them to continue running, or at the very least, stay active. They may not understand the physical benefits of exercise, but they certainly got a huge dose of the emotional aspect. 

Tag, I’m It! My “Next Big Thing”

The Next Big Thingis a blog meme going around in the blog-o-sphere, and Cammy at Tippy Toe Diet asked if she could tag me to keep it going, sort of like Friendship Bread only carb-free!

Cammy’s Next Big Thingis a gathering of goals she’s put under the umbrella of “daring greatly.” She was tagged to continue the meme by Sharon at Midlife Moments, whose Next Big Thing is menopause.
My Next Big Thingwill make noise. Literally. And I hope to god my mother isn’t reading this.
I’m going to learn to drive ride this (A reader corrected me saying you ride a bike, both as the person who is in charge of it and the person riding on the back. It seems confusing, but if that’s the rule, that’s the rule!):
This is the Irishman’s Harley, a 1999 Sportster 883, that I’ve had the pleasure of riding on the back of only once and only briefly because spring didn’t get the groundhog’s memo that it’s supposed to start warming up.  
I rode on the back of a motorcycle for the first time two years ago (see “A Mental Miracle”) and went from scared-to-death to badass-in-love in zero to 60. Motorcycle Owner and I only dated for a few more months, so I didn’t get too much additional riding time, but the thrill of the ride never left me.
Knowing this, a friend suggested I take the a Motorcycle Safety Training class after he took it and bought a used Honda Sportster last year. It seemed absurd at the time. Learn to drive ride a motorcycle? Such a foreign concept. As liberated as I am, driving  riding a bike seemed like a guy thing. Women rode on the back. But a seed was planted, and like the crocuses in my yard – despite the wicked weather – it will bloom.
One in 10 motorcycle owners are women. Not great stats, but those women are out there, and I am determined to join their ranks. I just have to learn how to drive ride one first, something I know almost nothing about. But, hey, I didn’t know anything about driving a stick shift when my dad took me with him to test drive a 1974 Mustang in 1980 when I was a junior in high school. He drove us to a parking lot, got out of the car, and said, “If you drive this back to the dealership, I’ll buy it for you.” Believe me, I learned REAL fast how to drive a stick.
When I married farmer Bruce, he taught me to drive a skid loader, an old Ford pickup with the stick on the column (the 3-speed “H” pattern), a tractor, and a 10-speed Mack truck. Getting behind the wheel of an enclosed vehicle is always fun. But there are no steering wheels on motorcycles. Or doors or windows or anything holding you in. You shift with your left foot, including your toes, and you brake with your right hand as well as your foot, and people warn you about how dangerous they are and they call people who love motorcycles “organ donors” and you’d think that would be enough to scare me away.
But it doesn’t. This is just the kind of challenge I’ve been looking for. Something so outside my comfort zone that I need field glasses to see it. It also gives me something more fun than my 2013 taxes to save for.
I’ll start small (and used), perhaps a Suzuki Marauder GZ125. It weighs what I did at my heaviest!
Or a Honda Rebel 250
Or a Star Motorcycles V Star 250. Look how awesome she looks driving that!
Or a Yamaha Virago 250. Not sure I can pull off leather pants, but I’ll definitely get chaps.
So there you have it. My Next Big Thing. I promise I’ll do everything within my power to stay safe. In the meantime, I’m hoping for warmer weather very soon so I can start riding on the back of that Harley and begin learning all I can about driving it one day.
I’ve tagged Sharon from Gains and Losses: Life ThroughSharon’s Eyes to keep this Next Big Thing chain going. I just know she’ll come up with her own uber cool challenge!

A New Dog And An Old Knee

I wish I could say I did it dancing an Irish jig in a fine pub with a handsome Irishman after putting back a pint of Guinness. But alas, there was no dancing, no fine pub, and no pint. (But there was a handsome Irishman *grin*)

I spent a good portion of Sunday afternoon in the ER learning what I might have done to my already horrific right knee on Saturday night. I’d felt it twist a bit when I stood up from my office chair and turned slightly to put my computer to sleep. (My computer being a rebuilt ProBook laptop, sent to me via my accidental damage warranty, to replace the ProBook that couldn’t handle its liquor. One glass of wine and it was toast. See “Armed and Less Dangerous”) It was nothing too noticeable, nothing painful, until I tried to walk and my knee buckled like an asphalt driveway on a 100-degree day. My kneecap moved all over the place, like a silver ball in a plastic-domed cardboard puzzle. I could NOT get that sucker back in place.
When I awoke the next morning, my knee had swollen to the size of a small cantaloupe. To get downstairs, I had to sit and slide. My toes were numb and my foot was cold. It was time to hit the ER.
The doctor said I most likely sprained it and tore some ligaments, but without an MRI, he couldn’t know exactly what was wrong. One look at my knee on a good day and you know it’s toast. It’s been living on borrowed time since I was 18 and I’ll be 50 in five months. It’s accrued a lot of interest in 32 years. But like an old car you can’t afford to replace, I just keep changing the oil, hoping she’ll give me a few more miles.
We nixed the MRI idea because it would be a waste of time and money. I assumed the doctor would suggest draining the fluid, as I’ve had done many times before, but he said the arthritis and the bone spurs would make draining more difficult and he didn’t want to risk aggravating my knee any further or cause infection. He said I needed to wear a knee stabilizer and follow the RICE principal – rest, ice, compression, elevation.
I waited until he left my room to shed a few tears. This knee dealio couldn’t have come at a worse time. I just adopted a beautiful 18-month-old coon hound/lab mix on Friday. Her original name was Whitney, but she doesn’t look like or act like a Whitney. I thought about Sid, but g-baby Claire said she already has too many Sidney’s in her life (Sidney her best friend and Sidney Crosby, her favorite hockey player). So I named her Alice because I like “White Rabbit” and because her back legs reminded me a little of my great-grandmother Alice’s legs: skinny and slightly bowed.
Except for the three hours I spent out with the Irishman Saturday night, I’ve been with Alice constantly since Friday morning. We’re attached like flies on stink (and she does sometimes stink as her body adjusts to new food…yikes!). Underweight, my job is to help Alice gain 8 pounds, which I’d happily give her if liposuction transfer was possible. Alice’s job is to get me out of the house and be more active. That’s going to be a challenge with a bum knee.
A nurse came in with the brace and she saw me wiping my eyes.
“I want to tell you something…” she began, and I thought, ‘Here we go. Another well-intentioned person who has a friend who has a friend who had her knee replaced when she was 79 and she wondered why she didn’t do it sooner.’ I hear that story all the time.
“I’m 56 and have been an ER nurse for 30 years,” she said. “I’m on my feet for long hours at a time. Several years ago, my right knee started hurting. It kept getting worse until two years ago, I decided to see an orthopedic surgeon. He told me, ‘How in the hell do you expect me to fix something like that when you’re so damn fat?’”
I gasped.
“Yup, that’s what he said. But he replaced my knee and it was the best thing I’d ever done for myself,” she said.  
“Wait,” I said, still reeling from her doctor’s comment. “He spoke to you like that and you let him operate?”
She laughed. “He wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. I know I’m fat. I have been all my life. I’ve never been thin like you.”
As she wrapped my knee in the brace, I thought about all the assumptions floating around the room – hers and mine – and about how much easier it is to assume than it is to remain curious and open-minded. 

The older I get, the more I think I know, when the truth is – to quote Smash Mouth – my brain gets smart but my head gets dumb. This is particularly true when it comes to things I fear, like knee replacement. I recycle old, unexamined thoughts or turn a blind eye to the truth.

Isn’t she a beaut? I might be able to get a few more miles out of her (Is there anything a hot bath won’t cure?), but I will give knee replacement a little less resistance and a little more thought, especially now that Alice will be needing my knees to keep up with her for the next 13 years or so.

“Likes walks on the beach…”

After celebrating my beautiful daughter’s 30thbirthday last night at a Japanese hibachi grill, I wasn’t sure the five hours of sleep I got and the daylight standard time thing would put me in the mood for outdoor activity today. But when it’s 66 degrees in March AND sunny, and you live in a place where you’re sun-deprived for nine months of the year, you learn real quick how to put on your big girl panties and get out there, despite your sake headache…I mean, sleep deprivation.

Nothing was keeping me off the bike trail. Well, almost nothing. I’ll get to that in a minute.
I dug my bike out from hibernation and pumped up the tires and attached the bag and the odometer/speedometer computer thingy (that’s the technical term, I’m pretty sure). I attached the bike rack to my spare tire (remind me to ask for a trailer hitch and new bike rack for my birthday this year) and hoisted my bike onto it. Then I spent a minute staring at the strap I use to secure the bike to the rack like I’d never seen it before. It’s only been four months and change since I’d done it before, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember how I threaded that thing around my bike. After four tries, those brain cells came back to life and my bike was securely attached to the rack.
I chose to get on the trail in the small town of Marwood because I wanted to see the cows and turkeys I hadn’t seen since October. It’s also where a relatively open part of the trail begins and thought it was my best bet for a dry(er) ride. I shifted my bike into four-wheel drive – relatively speaking – and started pedaling. I never got above 8 miles per hour, the mud was so thick. My lungs and thighs were working overtime. ‘Killer workout!’ I thought. I was psyched.
Did I mention we had 10 inches of snow last Tuesday? Yeah…I kind of forgot about that.
I turned around and four-wheeled back to the Jeep. I strapped the bike back on the rack, and then took off in the other direction on foot. I had The Black Keys on my iPod and the sun in my face…I was ready to power walk.
On vacation in southern CA, 2008
I knew right away this wasn’t going to be an ordinary walk. Suddenly, it was 2008, and the bike trail had turned into Topanga Beach in southern California. Talk about wet sand! ‘Killer workout’ I thought, and I was psyched for the second time in an hour.
I walked for two miles as briskly as I could, and my thighs and knees felt every step. They will hate me tomorrow, but too bad, so sad. That’s why god created Advil. I need my biking legs back in working order, and the sooner the better. Biking helps me think and work out the mental kinks, and I’ve definitely accumulated some of those over the winter. Have you? What are you looking forward to most as the weather improves and the days get longer?

It’s an Audrey Rose!!

Waving goodbye to Mommy and Daddy.

I got the call at 7:30 last night. Water broke, bags are packed, it’s baby time. I threw a bag together and headed over to the Conti ranch.
The kids were still awake and their nervous excitement was palpable. Cassie and Matt left at 8:15 and the kids waved goodbye. The kids and I talked and read books and by 9:30, they were out like lights.
Audrey Rose is a text baby, similar to Mae. Cassie texted me throughout the night with updates on her status. Two centimeters at 2:30, five at 5:00, seven at 6:30.
“My epidural wore off on the left side. I can’t believe you went natural with us. Shit hurts man.” To which I replied, “I had no choice.”
A few minutes later: “Will be pushing in about 10-15 min. 8 cm.”
I knew the next half hour in Cassie’s world would be beautifully chaotic with pushing and panting, doctor’s commands, blood, pain, and sweat. I saw her birth Claire, so I know she births babies with determination and grace. I also knew my son-in-law was giving her 110 percent. And so I sat in the quiet and played Words With Friends and ate a banana and thought for sure Cassie was birthing a boy.
Claire woke up and came downstairs and sat next to me on a stool. “What is it?” she asked. “What’s the baby, a boy or girl?”
I told her I didn’t know yet. She asked for a banana and she showed me how she peels them. Claire had climbed in bed with me at 2:30 and we talked for an hour before she fell back to sleep and did her typical Claire arm dive onto my nose a few times. Queen sized bed and the girl sleeps right next to me. I’d want it no other way.
At 7:15, my son-in-law sent the first photo of the baby: “It’s Audrey Rose! 6 lbs 14 oz!”
I was wrong again. I’m 0 for 4 on grandbaby gender guessing. Do NOT take me to Vegas.
“You have a sister!” I told Claire and showed her the photo.
“Ohhhh! She’s so cuuuute! It’s a really, really pretty name!”
I texted and called family and friends as Claire typed the alphabet on my computer: Abcdefghijklnmopqrstuvwxyz
“Why are people so excited?” Claire asked, as my phone dinged and dinged.
“Because so many people want to know who Audrey is,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, and kept typing.
Luca woke up and was in the bathroom doing his business. Claire went upstairs and said, “You were right! We have a sister! Her name is Audrey Rose!”
“Awwwww….that’s so cuuuute!” said Luca, flushing the toilet.
“Wash your hands!” I yelled up the stairs.
“I did!” he said.
“Dude, there’s no way you washed your hands yet. Wash them!” I said. The water turned on. I won.
Luca sat on my lap as I continued my texting quest. He typed his own line on my computer: jhzg4etreegrfetsgqwhewfhtrthygtyhy56htreh…. Naming each letter and number as he typed.
Matt sent me another photo of Audrey and I showed the kids.
“Are we gonna have THAT baby?” Luca asked. Yes, dude, that’s the one who’s going to live in your house for the next 18 years, at least.
Mae woke up at 8:15 and I brought her downstairs. I showed her the photos of Audrey.
“Mommy’s baby,” she said over and over.
“Yes, that’s Mommy’s baby. Her name is Audrey.” Mae insisted I keep Audrey’s photo on my computer screen. If I responded to something on Facebook, she’d say, “See Mommy’s baby!” and I’d have to bring the photo back on the screen. Like Luca, I don’t think she fully understands that “Mommy’s baby” is coming home to stay on Thursday.
In a few hours I’ll hold Audrey Rose for the first time. If there is ever a more perfect moment than holding a newborn baby, I don’t know what it is.
Today is my father’s birthday. He is 82. He is beyond thrilled that his great-granddaughter shares his birthdate. Dad has understood the precarious nature of life since he was a child. His father died when Dad was 6 and his mother was 9 months pregnant with his brother. There is no more perfect gift to him today than Audrey Rose.
But my perfect gift today wasn’t Audrey. While her being here is awesome and I can’t wait to get to know her, my perfect gift was a text from my son-in-law. I had thanked him for Audrey, to which he replied, “Hey, thanks for Cassie. She’s just an awesome woman.”
*tear* It doesn’t get any better than that.

Fueled By Worry

Grandbaby #4 will be here sometime in the next…oh…few, several, maybe ten days…who knows…which means my phone is never off and always charged.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but then, does a mother ever get used to worrying about her children? Cassie has had fairly easy pregnancies and deliveries, but still, it’s difficult to accept there isn’t one thing I can do to guarantee she and the baby will be fine. This isn’t a skinned knee we’re talking about.
And as if worry wasn’t enough, self-doubt joined the fun. Do I have what it takes to be a good support to my daughter and her husband? A good Grammy to four children?
I’ve eaten my way through those questions more than a few times and…you guessed it…I got no answers. Just a sluggish feeling with a side of guilt.
You know the saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? Yeah, well, sometimes the answers I seek can’t be found because I’m looking in the wrong place. Leave it to a 5-year-old to be my guiding prophet.
Last night I took Claire to her taekwondo class. On the ride there, she talked about who will be at her house to take care of her when her mommy’s having the baby. She rattled off a list of all the people she wants around her: me, Papa Larry, Grandma Julia, Papa Frank, Auntie Carly and Uncle Ben. She said she wanted to sleep in her bed tent and wanted Luca to sleep in her secret hiding place (AKA, her closet, which has a sheer curtain for a door and lots of pillows inside. No mention of where Mae would be in all this. Luca is her best friend. Mae’s someone she escapes from once in awhile.)
Claire was talking faster than usual and I realized she was seeking reassurance that everything will be OK, that if she woke up one morning and Mommy and Daddy weren’t there, that she would not be alone. And it hit me. I know how to do that! I know how to make Claire feel safe. I’ve been doing it for more than five years!
When I woke up this morning, I made my intention for the day to be mindful of how I was taking care of myself so that I could best take care of the people who need my help. I have no control over how or when gbaby arrives, but I can control what goes in my mouth and my physical activity.
Mae, Cassie, Claire and Luca. #4 is in there somewhere!
So with a bit of new-found courage, I threw on some clothes, ate a sensible breakfast, and headed over to Cassie’s to watch the kids so she could go to her OB appointment in peace. I sat on the couch and all three kids grabbed their blankies and snuggled up around me. I asked Cassie how I’d possibly have room for another baby and she said, “You have long arms. They’ll all fit.” When I got home, I worked out for the first time in two weeks. The endorphins were like long-lost friends. I’d missed them so.
Over the next few days, I will do what I’ve done the other three times: prepare and freeze meals for the family. And when Cassie comes home from the hospital, greeting her on the stove will be a pot of wild rice soup, and in the oven, tater tot hotdish. There’s a place for food to offer comfort. It’s just not a very good counselor.
I’m still worried. That won’t change. I mean, it’s my daughter. But I won’t let worry consume me. I’m letting it fuel me.

Staying One Step Ahead of the Second Child

Originally published in "The Clarion News" November 1999

Next year at this time my youngest daughter, Cassandre (or as she's fondly known in the family, Cassie Lou Who), will almost be
16. She figured this out the other day while I drove her to work or
cheerleading practice or a football game or maybe WalMart. I can’t remember. I
just drive.

“Isn’t that exciting!” she said. “Then I can drive myself

She was born 20 months after her sister and ever since she’s
been playing catch-up, always wanting to be her sister’s age.

When she was eight she wanted to be 10. At 11 she was
convinced her life would begin at 13. Now, at 14, the magic age is 16 – the age
to drive, date, and plan her life at 18.

I can understand her feeling she has an inherent right to
the same timetable as her sister. As small children I did lump them together as
a group rather than seeing them as individuals of differing ages.

She stopped taking naps and gave up Barbies the same time as
her sister, and started listening to (and stopped listening to) New Kids On the
Block when her sister did.

But age became an issue when it was time for the big stuff
like staying up a half-hour later, putting on fingernail polish by herself,
riding in the front seat, shaving her legs, wearing makeup, getting her ears
pierced a second time and dating. She had to wait.

“Wait?” she exclaims each time her sister gets a new
privilege. “That’s not fair!”

“Those are the rules,” I explain.

“Well, when can I?”

“When you are your sister’s age.”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes,” I always sigh. “I promise.”

Parents, learn this lesson well: Never promise a child
anything hoping she will forget. She won’t. And if you do promise something,
make sure you write it down. Verbatim. Have it certified. Sign it in blood. Or
you’ll be matching wits and memories with a kid who knows exactly when you made
a promise exactly as you said it years before while you were making
Thanksgiving dinner for 30 people or on the phone with the Internal Revenue
Service and would say anything to get her out of the kitchen.

This lesson applies mostly to the second child. With a first
child, parents are fledglings and rarely promise anything because they have no
idea what they’re doing. For example, if your oldest child asks to stay up a
half-hour later you might say something like “I’ll think about it,” and then
run to the bookshelf for advice as soon as she’s out of the room.

I’m going to let you in on a secret the books never tell
you: When you render your decision about the first child’s request, your second
child is taking it all in, memorizing the date, the time, the exact age of the
first child (to the day) and the place you were standing when you said, “Yes,
you may stay up a half-hour later tonight.”

Be prepared when your second child comes to you, detailed
charts and analysis in hand, at exactly the same time in her life and asks to
stay up a half-hour later. If you have forgotten when you allowed the first
child the same privilege you will have no defense. God help you if you say no.

If these second-born children could apply these awesome
memorization and organizational skills to their education, they’d all be rocket
scientists, brain surgeons or concert pianists. However, being adamant about
being right is usually reserved only for fairness (as they perceive it) in
family matters.

Being driven to memorize their spelling words or the
periodic table is not in the same league as showing up their mother or older

Being second doesn’t always mean having to wait or being
vigilant for injustices or wearing hand-me-downs, though. It does have its
advantages. My youngest makes mental notes every time her sister and I have a
difference of opinion and some kind of punishment is handed down. With this
advanced knowledge she rarely repeats the mistakes of her sister.

Where she doesn’t avoid punishment (or at least a dirty
look) is when she reminds me of mine.

The second child is almost always compared to the older
child, especially if they’re the same gender. But second children rarely walk
the path tread by their older sibling. My oldest is a bit reserved, a little
shy, and it is my youngest who makes the most noise in our world, the one who
will not be ignored, the one who will try the things her sister won’t. She is
the child my mother couldn’t wait for me to have – the one who was just like

And I wouldn’t have her any other way. Her smile lights up a
room. She can tune into a person’s emotional frequency just by looking at their
face. She’ll be anything she wants to someday because she is brave and honest
and can look the truth in the eye and not run away.

Yeah, so she wants to be older. Who, at 14, didn’t? If the
years have taught me anything it’s that our desire to be older than we are
stops at about 25, the age auto insurance rates (and some body parts) start to

Besides, when she’s 25 I’ll be 45 wishing I was 35. Thank
God for my grandmother who used to tell me that one day we’ll all be happy to
be any age.

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be something else…”

I’m at “that age” when you wake up in the middle of the
night, drenched in sweat, wondering if that pallet of overnight Always you
bought will hold you through next Thursday.

They say you go through menopause like your mother, and if
that’s true, then I will should be locked in my bedroom smoking cigarettes and watching
“Cagney and Lacey” with the windows wide open, even in the middle of winter. My
father damn near froze to death every night, and if he dared complain, my
mother would hiss, “Then turn up the electric blanket.” No, I’m definitely
going through menopause differently than my mother.

Especially after last weekend.

The mother of all periods started three weeks ago. A pad or
two a day the first week; a pad or two an hour the second. I planned my days by
how quickly I could get to a bathroom. At the start of week three, the bleeding
tapered, but my body was so confused that it nearly collapsed in a soccer field
bathroom in Indiana, Pennsylvania, last Saturday afternoon.

Everything was fine when C and I left my house at noon. I
plugged in the address to the field into my new GPS (best birthday gift ever)
and away we drove west on 422. A half hour later, I developed a headache and my
joints started to hurt. Twenty minutes later, I couldn’t hold up my head. We
got to the field and parked the car near the rest rooms, just as the chills
started. C covered me with a jean jacket and two bath towels and asked if I
wanted to go find a doctor. I assured him I’d be fine laying in the car with my
eyes closed. Worried, he went to the field.

A few minutes later, I had to use the bathroom. As soon as I
stood up, I saw silver floaters in my field of vision, the ones that clue you
in to an inevitable pass-out. I walked, bent over, to the bathroom, and was
stopped from planting my face on the pavement by one of C’s teammates. “Get C***,”
was all I could say. He poured me in the car and ran down to the field.

Meanwhile, other teammates drove into the parking lot. They
saw me sitting on the passenger’s seat with my head between my knees and asked
what was wrong. I had no idea what the hell was happening to me. All I wanted
to do was pass out. Drift away. Anything to get the damn headache out of my head.
Realistic me knew I needed medical attention, so I managed to say it out loud. One
of the guys grabbed my GPS and found directions to the nearest hospital just as
C was running back from the field. A man from the other team saw the commotion
and stopped to ask if he could help. Being the good Minnesota Lutheran
Norwegian I am, I said, “Oh, no, we’ll be OK.” He insisted we follow him to the
hospital. He knew a shortcut. C, who isn’t a Minnesota Lutheran Norwegian,
said, “Thanks, man. I’ll follow you!”

Now, I understand mistakes happen, even in a hospital. But
two mistakes led to a three-day hunt for what was “really” wrong with me. The CT
scan was fine, the ECG was great, but the initial blood and urine analysis
indicated I had a kidney infection and that my “immune system was compromised.”
High on Dilaudid, Ativan and anti-nausea drugs, I didn’t realize the doctor was
saying he suspected I had leukemia. The lab concluded my white blood cell count
was 1.3 (normal is 4.3 and above), yet the week before, after my yearly
checkup, my white blood cell count was 5.1.

“How does someone develop leukemia
in a week?” C asked.

AmbulanceThat’s just it. They don’t. But doctors being doctors (or
doctors being sure they don’t get sued), I was transported by ambulance to a
hospital in Pittsburgh and admitted to their oncology floor. Twenty four vials
of blood later, doctors concluded my white blood cell count was normal, as was
everything else. I didn’t have a kidney infection or an infection of any kind. But
did they let me go


My daughters, all gowned up.

home? No. They had to find a reason I’d almost passed out,
even though both C and I explained to them, ad nauseum, that it was probably
due to bleeding for three weeks and the fact that I felt a cold coming on. Yes,
yes, they said, both were possibilities, but they wanted to be sure.

The overkill continued that evening when I asked if I could
have a couple of Advil for my headache. The doctor prescribed oxycodone. *eyeroll*

On Sunday, the attending physician ordered an echocardiogram
because she heard my heart murmur. The same murmur I’ve known about – and has
not bothered me – all my life. Most medical professionals can’t even detect it.
I had the echocardiogram and…gee…turns out I have a very healthy heart. So did
they let me go home? No.

Sunday night, I again asked for Advil. Again they brought me
oxycodone. *sigh*

Monday rolled around and the attending physician said she wanted
me to consult with a cardiologist, “just to make sure.” She said she could
probably get one to see me that evening. I told her no, I wasn’t staying in the
hospital, and asked her to release me. (This was said through a veil of tears.
I was tired and bored and fed up with being poked and prodded.) She said no. I
said that I was going to leave anyway, and she said I could, but my insurance
wouldn’t cover anything if I left without her permission. Thank god her
assistant was watching all this because when they left my room, I could hear
her pleading my case with the doctor. A few minutes later, the assistant came
in and told me to hold tight, she’d have my release papers ready by 12:30. I
almost kissed her I was so happy.

Thousands of dollars later, the duck really was a duck. I wish
my experience was unique, that the fundamental lack of communication and common
sense on display last weekend was a fluke, but I doubt it. In our lawsuit happy
world, doctors have their hands tied. And because of two separate false
positives, my insurance company is being billed for dozens of unnecessary tests
and procedures, thus contributing to the overall increased cost of healthcare.

That’s the true headache, and Advil and oxycodone can’t fix


Hello from “Where Have I Been?”

My whereabouts since my last blog entry isn’t a great mystery, but I wanted to explain where I’ve been and to let you know this will be my last blog entry for awhile.
It’s not that maintenance is more or less important than any other responsibility or event that make up my life. Writing about it, however, takes time, and the things vying for my time this summer are many.
My brother still suffers the affects of the series of petit mal seizures he endured in June 2011. As his power of attorney, his complicated and difficult journey is also mine, and the weight of that responsibility is daunting at times. I say this not to garner sympathy, but to send out empathy to all of you who, in addition to living your own lives, caretake in someone else’s.
Two pieces of good news are taking up my time:
1) Daughter Carlene is getting married in October! Originally slated for April, they moved up the wedding not because of a baby, but because, quoting Carlene, “We just want to be married.” No better reason than that! Let the frenzy begin.
2) Grandbaby #4 will arrive in February! #4 was not planned, but sometimes the best things in life are serendipitous. To update you on ages, Claire will be 5 in October, Luca was 3 in May, and Maelie is 18 months old. I said to Luca the other day, “So, your mommy’s having a baby?” and he said, “Yeah, but we’re keeping Mae.” I couldn’t tell by his voice if he was relieved or resigned. I hope he gets a brother, but even though he tolerates Mae, he insists he wants another sister. And while on the surface that sounds sweet, I think he knows if it’s a boy he’ll have to share his room.
Within the planning, the watching children, my brother’s issues, I’ve managed to read several books (“Good in Bed” by Jennifer Weiner is fabulous!) and ride many miles on my bike. One of my favorite things this year was meeting another Internet friend, Lori from Finding Radiance. She’s as down to earth in person as she is on her blog. The woman knows her way around a bagel and a latte as much as a bike path and dumbbells. She’s taught me more about balance than any gymnast could. Her blog is a highly recommended read!
School starts again in 10 days. Chemistry, Algebra… ‘Nuff said.
Even though this will be my last post for awhile, our dialogue can continue. I will still post on Lynn’s Weigh on Facebook, so I hope you’ll join us there. If you don’t do social media, that’s fine, too. Know that I wish you well in your journey, wherever you are on that path, and I will be back.